Should Bucks be making better use of its empty properties?
Buckingham district and town councillor Robin Stuchbury is posing that question to his peers, at a full meeting of Aylesbury Vale District Council on February 22.
He’s calling for a report that details the number of empty homes in the Vale and what options the local authority has in finding a better use for them.
AVDC reports, on its website, that there are 400 properties under its jurisdiction that have been vacant for over six months.
Government figures report that, at the end of 2016, there were only 168 long-term vacant properties in, and north of, Aylesbury. There were over 1000 listed as vacant, in total, in the same year.
Robin explained why he is asking the question. He said: “The reason I have taken this motion to council is, firstly, because its a national issue, but also because I don’t think AVDC have considered this problem in the last three years.
“I’m not asking for any kind of policy to be adopted, I would just like to start the discussion.”
Council’s were granted the power to take over management of certain empty properties in 2004, through the use of Empty Dwelling Management Orders.
Current legislation requires the local authority to give three months notice of their intention to issue an EDMO and the property must have been empty for at least two years.
Robin added: “There are people who are homeless, there are people who can’t get onto the housing ladder, so I think it’s a councils duty to bring as much housing stock into public availability as possible.
“Bucks and the Vale can’t keep using growth as a means to get around things, some of these empty buildings are historic properties, within a community.
“If AVDC use the powers they have they could be rented with no cost to the council, revenue neutral, or resold to improve the area or house a member of the community. I just want to have the debate.”
AVDC say that their empty homes policy is currently being reviewed. A spokesperson said: “The reported statistics show that the number of empty properties across the whole of Aylesbury Vale is low compared to the national picture.. The total figure of 195 includes new build properties that have yet to be sold and many houses that are only temporarily empty, for example those being bought, sold and refurbished.
"Our main focus is on those properties that have been unoccupied for long periods of time. Through working with the owners of empty properties we have reduced the number of empty properties in Aylesbury Vale by 66% since December 2011.
"The list of empty properties has recently been reviewed and we are now working on a shortlist of priority properties that have been selected taking into account how long they have been unoccupied, any adverse impact they may be having on other nearby residents and whether they are located in an area where there is a high demand for housing.
"We have a range of measures to assist bringing houses back into use including empty property loans which eligible owners can use to fund repair and renovation work so that a house can be brought back into a fit state for habitation. In extreme cases, for example when owners of long term empty homes cannot be traced, we have enforcement powers enabling us to repair and rent or sell properties on."